The living animals at the LA Zoo may be sleeping the night away during the Christmas season, but that doesn't mean the place is dark and quiet. When the zoo is open after dark for LA Zoo Lights, glowing animal-themed displays take over the grounds.
Zoo Lights is an ideal family outing, date night, or meet-up with friends. For many LA residents, it's a family tradition, and for visitors, it can become a cherished holiday memory.
What to Expect
You'll see impressive 3D projections, lasers, and more LED lights than you can count as the entire zoo becomes a glowing, cheerful exhibit, complete with a water show and music.
If you remember the old LADWP Holiday Light Festival, you'll see some classic elements from that, including the Hollywood sign, the downtown LA skyline, and the Hollywood Bowl.
The old-fashioned lights are fun, but there's a lot of modern techno-wizardry going on, too. The show was designed by Gregg Lacy and Bionic League, a live event design company known for its spectacular light shows. Among the most enjoyable effects is a three-minute projection show that features a handful of engaging elephants whose colors keep changing.
If you have an Indiana Jones-level fear of slithering creatures, beware of the giant, illuminated snake that sits on top of the LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles) building. Otherwise, you'll probably think it's pretty amazing.
The only live animals you'll see awake are real reindeer. Santa Claus also appears on selected nights.
Tickets for LA Zoo Lights
Sold out nights happen, especially on weekends and days near Christmas, so it's best to buy tickets ahead of time at the Zoo Lights website. You can print your ticket to show at the entrance or show them your mobile ticket.
Children under two get in free anytime, and strollers are permitted. Parking is always free, and the lot is big enough for everyone to find a spot.
You can save money by going during their preview week or on value nights. Zoo members also get ticket discounts. For dates after December 25, you may find discounted tickets on Groupon or Goldstar. Here's how to use Goldstar to get discounts on tickets and events. AAA members can get a ticket discount if they present their membership card at the box office.
There are no refunds on tickets, but don't fret. You can exchange your tickets for another date as long as you do it 48 hours ahead of time. There is a rescheduling fee, and you may have to pay for a difference in the ticket price.
VIP experiences at the LA Zoo Lights come with drinks, food, and music but at a higher price.
Tips for Going to the LA Zoo Lights
- The zoo lights are on from mid-November through early January, except on holidays.
- You will sometimes be walking on uneven ground in low light. It's not a problem for most people, but might be a concern for someone with limited mobility.
- On Premium nights, two entry times are offered.
- Some visitors also complain about not knowing which way to go, but following the crowds is your best bet to seeing all the lights.
- The Twinkle Tunnel is a short walk, but everyone wants to stop and take photos in it, which means you may have to endure a wait.
- If you want to go later in the evening, find out when they stop letting people in (which may be before the event ends).
- New sections are added every year, and old ones get facelifts. Even if you have been before, it won't be quite the same if you go again.
- The lights are Christmas-themed but are also a fun thing to do on New Year's Eve. They also have New Year's package, especially for families. It includes celebrating on East Coast time, early enough that the kids don't have to stay up past their bedtime.
- Commuter traffic is worst around the Zoo area between 6 and 7 p.m.
More Holiday Fun
Besides the light display, you'll find more holiday activities in Griffith Park. You can take a Christmas train ride from Travel Town to Santa's Village. Order train tickets ahead of time on their website to prevent disappointment.